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Police torture victim released from jail after 23 years

By Don Babwin | Last updated: Jan 25, 2010 - 3:28:51 PM

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Michael Tillman, right, leaves Cook County Jail with his attorney Flint Taylor, left, after being released from prison Jan. 14. Tillman, who served more than 23 years for the rape and murder of a Chicago woman, was released after prosecutors acknowledged Chicago police coerced him into confessing in 1986. Photo: AP/ Wide World Photos
CHICAGO - A man who was coerced into confessing to a murder in 1986 walked out of a courtroom a free man in mid-January, ending the latest chapter in a torture scandal that has engulfed the Chicago police department for years.

Prosecutor Andrew Levine said his office agreed to drop the charges against Michael Tillman after concluding that without the coerced confession, there was not enough evidence to convict him.

“I'm just glad justice finally prevailed,” said 43-year-old Tillman, adding that until recently he had not believed he would ever be free. His lawyer said the abuse he endured from detectives included a crude form of waterboarding.

Mr. Tillman was convicted of taking part in the 1986 rape and murder of a woman who lived in a building where he had worked as a handyman.

In 2006, authorities confirmed what the Black community on the South Side had known for years: that detectives in a police station called Area 2 Headquarters routinely tortured suspects to extract confessions in the 1970s and ‘80s.

The scandal led to the reversal of a number of convictions, and officials were forced to pay out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits of men who said they were wrongfully convicted. Area 2's then-commander, Jon Burge, faces federal charges that he lied under oath about the use of torture on suspects.

Mr. Tillman and his attorneys said police beat him with a phone book, punched him until the floor was slick with his blood and put a gun to his head. They said a plastic bag was put over his head and carbonated soda was poured into his nose.

“It was a crude form of waterboarding (in which) they induced the feeling of suffocating or drowning,” said one of his attorneys, Locke Bowman. Finally, Mr. Tillman told the detectives what they wanted to hear.

Betty Howard's attackers tied her to a radiator, sexually assaulted her, then shot her to death. In court papers, prosecutors said Mr. Tillman's confession had been a “product of coercion” and that he had been the victim of a “pattern and practice of abuse” by police at Area 2.

Don Babwin -Associated Press

Related news:

New hope for alleged torture victims in Illinois (FCN, 08-31-2009)

Alleged torture victim gets new trial (FCN, 06-01-2009)

Torture: The American Way? (FCN, 05-15-2009)

Farrakhan: Give justice to victims of police torture (FCN, 05-13-2009)

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